Camel carvings in Saudi desert could be 7,000 years old: Study

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Camel carvings in Saudi desert could be 7,000 years old: Study

Life-size camel sculptures in Saudi Arabia that were originally thought to be 2,000 years old actually date back 8,000 years, new analysis has revealed.

Life-size camel sculptures in Saudi Arabia (pictured) that were originally thought to be 2,000 years old actually date back 8,000 years, new analysis has revealed

The discovery makes them almost twice the age of Britain’s Stonehenge, where stones were hauled into their unique circle around 2500 BC.

It had previously been estimated that the 21 camels, horses and other equid figures — found covered in stone in the Saudi desert in 2018 — were about 2,000 years old and had been made after the end of the Iron Age.

This is because they share similarities with artworks in the ancient Jordanian city of Petra, which was half-carved into the rock around two millennia ago.

It had previously been estimated that the 21 camel, horse and other equid figures — found covered in stone in the Saudi desert in 2018 — were about 2,000 years old and had been made after the end of the Iron Age

However, cutting-edge dating methods revealed that the estimate was out by 6,000 years, with the sculptures likely to date back to around 6000 BC when the now arid deserts of northern Saudi Arabia were ‘a savannah-like grassland scattered with lakes and trees’.

Rock art is extremely difficult to date, particularly at the ‘Camel Site’ in the province of Al Jawf in north-west Saudi Arabia, where erosion has damaged the three-dimensional reliefs extensively. 

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To establish an age for the site scientists assessed the tool marks and weathering on the sculptures, as well as fallen fragments and the density of the rock’s topmost layers. 

Cutting-edge dating methods revealed that the estimate was out by 6,000 years, with the sculptures likely to date back to around 6000 BC when the now arid deserts of northern Saudi Arabia were ‘a savannah-like grassland scattered with lakes and trees’

The data indicated that the sculptures were made with stone tools during the 6th millennia, a time when tribes herded cattle, sheep and goats.  Wild camels and equids also roamed the area and were hunted for millennia. 

‘We can now link the Camel Site to a period in prehistory when the pastoral populations of northern Arabia created rock art and built large stone structures called mustatil,’ the study’s authors said.

‘The Camel Site is, therefore, part of a wider pattern of activity where groups frequently came together to establish and mark symbolic places.’

The data indicated that the sculptures were made with stone tools during the 6th millennia, a time when tribes herded cattle, sheep and goats

The research was a joint effort involving the Saudi Ministry of Culture, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, French National Centre for Scientific Research, and King Saud University.

Similar carvings of three-dimensional reliefs on the face of stone formations can be found in parts of Turkey but are rare in Saudi Arabia. 

Researchers believe they were likely a communal effort, perhaps part of an annual gathering of a Neolithic group.

Rock art is extremely difficult to date, particularly at the ‘Camel Site’ (pictured) in the province of Al Jawf in north-west Saudi Arabia, where erosion has damaged the three-dimensional reliefs extensively

Reconstructions of the carving and weathering processes at the site suggest that it was in use for an extended period, during which panels were re-engraved and re-shaped. 

By the late 6th millennium BC most, if not all of the reliefs had been carved, making the Camel Site reliefs the oldest surviving large-scale reliefs known in the world.

‘Neolithic communities repeatedly returned to the Camel Site, meaning its symbolism and function was maintained over many generations,’ said the study’s author, Dr Maria Guagnin, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. 

‘Preservation of this site is now key, as is future research in the region to identify if other such sites may have existed.’ 

The Stonehenge that can be seen today is the final stage that was completed about 3,500 years ago.

By the late 6th millennium BC most if not all of the reliefs had been carved, making the Camel Site reliefs the oldest surviving large-scale reliefs known in the world

According to the monument’s website, it was built in four stages, beginning around 3100 BC and and ending just after 1500 BC.

Some of the stones are believed to have originated from a quarry in Wales, some 140 miles (225km) away from the Wiltshire monument.

To do this would have required a high degree of ingenuity, and experts believe the ancient engineers used a pulley system over a shifting conveyor-belt of logs.

Modern scientists now widely believe that Stonehenge was created by several different tribes over time.

After the Neolithic Britons — likely natives of the British Isles — started the construction, it was continued centuries later by their descendants. 

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Over time, the descendants developed a more communal way of life and better tools which helped in the erection of the stones. 

Bones, tools and other artefacts found on the site seem to support this hypothesis. The research on the Camel Site has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports


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